The Buffalo Bills offensive line didn’t play well enough in 2018. They fired offensive line coach Juan Castillo and replaced him with up-and-comer Bobby Johnson. What does that mean for the vacant right tackle spot and soon-to-be free agent Jordan Mills?
Read our information and then vote in the poll at the bottom of the article.
Jordan Mills has started the last 54 for the Buffalo Bills (including playoffs), a streak that started on December 6th, 2015. While never achieving the status of “fan favorite” Mills has been a part of offenses that boast incredible rushing numbers and above average scoring. Despite some success, Mills is frequently cited as a weak link with many asking for a change at right tackle. Which one is the real Mills?
Which Jordan Mills do we have? The one who helped lead a potent attack, or the one who shouldn’t be on the team in 2019? Well, it’s both. We’ve covered enough linemen for my big reveal. None of the linemen employed by Buffalo are terrible. In fact, they’re all pretty average. The problem is that they’re all average at different things.
Let’s pretend we’ve been asked to choreograph a performance using five dancers. They’re all average talent. If they’re all average at ballet we can simply choreograph to that style and have a serviceable performance. But what if two were ballet dancers, two knew a good deal of hip-hop, and one had some sick robot moves? You’re going to struggle to make your troupe work cohesively.
It’s not a question of whether Jordan Mills is talented enough for the Bills to try to retain. The better question is does he fit the style they’re looking to run. With a new offensive-line coach this is a difficult question to answer. With 2018 in consideration, the Bills aren’t doing anyone any favors by putting Mills back out there as a starter.
Two years, $3.8 million in 2017
Let’s compare Mills to Mills. By average value, Mills’s last deal was worth $1.9 million per season, which would place him 24th among right tackles with active contracts heading into 2019. That’s low, and Buffalo was fielding a new coach in 2017 with Mills only coming off one year as the starter in Western New York.
One year, $1.5 million in 2018
At 29 years old when he signed his contract, Mills and Newhouse are almost the same age. Mills obviously beat out Newhouse in 2018, and it was never close, so you can assume Mills is going to make more than Newhouse did a year ago and maybe even a lot more.
New York Jets
One year, $2,500,000 in 2018
Brought in to compete for the starting job, Ijalana was eventually settled into the swing-tackle role before he was placed on injured reserve in the preseason.
One year, $3.75 million
Brought in to be a safety blanket, Howard flamed out in Indianapolis and they released him with his $1.3 million signing bonus. He eventually caught on with the oft-injured Washington NFL team for a veteran-minimum deal to finish off the season as a guard.
San Francisco 49ers
Two years, $7.75 million
Gilliam essentially signed a one-year, $2.15 million guaranteed contract a year ago when he re-upped with San Fran. Bonuses raised that by $500,000 since he was active for each game, but he didn’t start any. He has just one start since signing with the 49ers originally in 2017 after a pair of years as the starting right tackle for the Seattle Seahawks (where he struggled in pass protection). The second year is not guaranteed and he has a huge salary of $4.5 million. The roster bonus is small enough where they can keep him all the way to the end of August before making a decision on that big salary hit.
Only one free-agent right tackle signed a multi-year deal in 2018, when Chris Hubbard received a five-year deal from the Cleveland Browns coming off his rookie deal. Mills isn’t as young or as talented as Hubbard, so projecting anything longer than two years is probably foolish.
Two years, $6 million with $1 million guaranteed
Does Buffalo have anyone in-house who could replace Mills? The answer is yes...potentially. Dion Dawkins, who just completed an uninspiring 2018 season as Buffalo’s starting left tackle, could move back to the right side, a position Dawkins is quite familiar with. The second-round selection in 2017 out of Temple took a major step backwards in both his run blocking and pass protection, although Dawkins vows to return to his rookie season form next year.
However, moving Dawkins would add even more instability to an already unstable situation. For the record, general manager Brandon Beane would not rule out a position change for Dawkins, who has served as the blind-side protector of an astonishing five different starting quarterbacks in 32 career games in Western New York.
The other tackle options currently under contract are all less-than-inspiring choices in Conor McDermott, Ike Boettger, and Jeremiah Sirles.
McDermott has proven himself to be a decent swing tackle option after coming over from the New England Patriots. Last year, McDermott saw action in five games for the Bills (22 snaps), allowing one sack. He seems to be just a backup option at this juncture, but he does offer Buffalo positional versatility along the line.
Boettger, an undrafted rookie free agent, played in four games (76 total snaps) at both guard and tackle, including seeing some action with the first-team in the regular-season finale squishing of the Miami Dolphins at New Era Field. He didn’t allow any sacks or commit any penalties in 2018, and Boettger is someone who could, with a solid training camp and preseason, play his way into more reps in 2019. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 313 pounds, Boettger flashed some raw talent, and with his strength and ability to play multiple spots along the line, he will also serve as depth this year.
Sirles, who inked a one-year deal with the Bills this offseason, saw action in 12 games (five starts), committing only one penalty while allowing a half sack in 138 total offensive snaps. He is another one of those versatile lineman who can play tackle, center, or guard, and Sirles often served as the Bills’ most frequent “tackle-eligible” option during the 2018 season.
Which free-agent right tackle should the Bills sign this offseason? Here is a short list of possible names the team should consider.
Let’s take care of the obvious very quickly. Williams was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2015; he was their fourth-round choice that year. Current Bills general manager Brandon Beane was Carolina’s assistant general manager when Williams was drafted. Williams missed nearly all of the 2018 season with a knee injury, but if he’s healthy, the 6’6,” 330-pound behemoth is a huge upgrade to Mills. Williams has only allowed 5.5 sacks in 29 career games, and he has only committed two penalties in his career.
The Miami Dolphins starter at right tackle since they drafted him 14th overall in 2014, James was a penalty machine early in his career. He committed nine penalties as a rookie, five his second year, then nine again in his third season. He has only committed nine penalties in the two seasons since, but his career total of 30 penalties (including 15 holds) is concerning. James has also allowed 20 sacks in his career. He is arguably a step back from Mills, regardless of the potential suggested by his status as a former first-round draft pick.
The veteran tackle served as a swing option for the New England Patriots this year. He is a reliable, steady veteran who won’t “wow” anyone, but he will do his job (pun intended). Waddle appeared in all 16 games for the Super Bowl champs, making three starts on the year. He committed two penalties and allowed 2 sacks. Waddle is the type of player best served as a stop-gap option to help groom a rookie.
Yes, he played left tackle in New England this season; however, he was a right tackle in San Francisco previously. Besides, Buffalo’s left tackle, Dion Dawkins, isn’t locked in at the position, so the coaching staff could allow them to fight it out among themselves, deciding which player was the better option on the blindside. If he wants free-agent left-tackle money, then the Bills may be wise to pass, as Brown’s best season came in a perfect setting: he was protecting the best quarterback of all time (whose release is lightning-quick) and he was working under, arguably, the best offensive-line coach of all time in Dante Scarnecchia.
This would be interesting, as the 33-year old Nsehke has played in all sorts of different leagues, spending time in the Arena Football League and the Canadian Football League before landing a gig as a swing tackle with the Washington Redskins in 2015. While he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning, he could be an intriguing option for a season or two while a rookie acclimates to the speed of the NFL game. Nsehke played in 14 games this year, starting five, without allowing a sack, though he did commit five penalties on the year.
The valedictorian of this year’s tackle class, Williams is an experienced, technically refined beast at the position. Don’t let analysts tell you he has short arms or he should move inside; he gets the job done regardless. Ford has been a riser in the offseason, as more people watch his tape and realize just how athletic he is despite playing in a quick-strike offense. His lack of experience as a starter makes him a slightly risky and raw proposition, however. Taylor plays a little high, and he’s not as perfect on the move as Ford, but there really are few other blemishes to his game. He looks like a plug-n-play starter on the right side.
Dalton Risner (Kansas State)
Yodney Cajuste (West Virginia)
David Edwards (Wisconsin)
Tyree St. Louis (Miami)
Kaleb McGary (Washington)
Max Scharping (Northern Illinois)
Tytus Howard (Alabama State)
Short scouting reports on each draft-eligible player available in our feature-length article.
Now it’s your turn, Bills fans. Vote on what you think Buffalo should do with veteran tackle Jordan Mills?
What should the Bills do at right tackle this offseason?
This poll is closed
Re-sign Jordan Mills to start
Bye Mills, spend a draft pick on a replacement starter
Bye Mills, sign a free agent starter
Bye Mills, move Dawkins to RT, find a new LT
Bye Mills, let McDermott/Sirles/Boettger compete for the job